Prepared: what does it look like?

Knowing when to move up a level is, I think, one of the trickiest questions for us as riders. I’ve talked about it on this blog before, when we were moving up from BN to N (geez that feels like a life time ago) but it’s a subject that you see come up quite often on blogs and message boards. It would be nice if there was a handy dandy be-all-end-all checklist that we could go by, but there really isn’t any hard and fast rule that is going to applicable across the board. Jim Wofford gave a good outline of his opinions here, but even then, there’s more to it than that.


And before anyone starts jumping to conclusions, NO I am not even thinking about moving up to Prelim. Like ever. That’s hilarious. Trainer can take my horse around that level but I’m gonna hard pass, thanks.

But even just to feel ready to show at a particular level, whether it’s a move up or not, there are certain things I want to be doing at home to feel like I’m well-prepared. For instance, I’m proooobably not gonna want to run Training if a 3’3″ stadium course looks at all big. Personally, I need that stuff to look small or I start riding in fetal position (ok, sometimes I ride in fetal position anyway). So for me, if I’m ready to go to the show, that means I’m comfortably jumping full courses a hole or two higher at home.


That seems to be pretty common across h/j-land… always school higher at home than the level at which you show. It makes sense to not expect to go to a show and be successful if you’re performing at the very tip top of your current ability. It doesn’t seem quite as common in eventing though. I often see people very meticulously set a course to 2’7″ or 2’11” or 3’3″, whatever the height may be that they’re showing, and very rarely jump anything higher except for a single fence here and there. I dunno how they do it. I would legit die or pee my pants when I got to the horse show. Probably both.

Same thing for XC – if I’m running Training, I want to at least have jumped some legit Prelim fences. If nothing else it’s a great confidence boost if I’m worried about a tricky jump on my course, to be able to say “Come on self, you’ve schooled bigger harder things than this, don’t be such a baby. Sit up and kick. Jesus.”. You’d be surprised how well that works for my psyche.

Image result for pull yourself together gif

A similar idea can be applied to dressage, just without the death part. If I never school anything harder at home than the movements that are in my test, riding up centerline at a show would be exponentially more stressful and more difficult. And anyone who’s ever seen us do dressage knows that we’re challenged enough without any added stress or difficulty.  So we plug away at home with shoulder-in and haunches-in and leg yield and counter canter and 10m circles even though I wouldn’t, under any circumstances, enter a test that had all of that.

For me personally, being truly prepared (whether it be for a move up or just for a show) means that I’ve done enough work at home to where I get to the show and feel confident in our ability to perform the task at hand. I’ll never be mistake-free, but I at least want to always walk in the ring or start box feeling like we’re more than capable of making it around. For me, it’s such a mental game. If a fence looks intimidatingly big, I’m probably in trouble.*

*Unless it’s a BAT (big ass table)… I reserve the right to say that those ALWAYS look too big and never walk within 30′ of them on foot…

What does “prepared” look like for you? Do you jump higher and school harder movements at home?

14 thoughts on “Prepared: what does it look like?

  1. This resounds with me right now as I submit my first two entries and debate which level to enter! The dressage movements at either level I’m considering are very comparable and we do have a dressage schooling show under our belts that went pretty well. So at least my concerns in that department aren’t too bad. At home, we’ve been schooling jumps (stadium and XC) at the BN height and greater for a year+ so I know he’s got the know-how and I’m not concerned about fence height 3′ and down. And from our sole XC schooling experience, he’s pretty honest over new-to-him jumps. But still, it’s the unknowns of a new venue that make me question it all! I trust the horse and am willing to slow to a trot for fences as needed. We’ll give it our all and hope for the best.


  2. Trakehners and BAT are your kryptonite! 🙂 I am never moving up. Just cause. BUT i do think finally the BN stadiums and cc dont look as BIG to me as they used to (But still holding onto intro). 🙂 We do usually jump higher but never really thought about the dressage part and that does make sense too!!


  3. Obviously I’m in H/J land, so my big consideration is “do those jumps look too big?” My trainer is the one that sets our jump height when we’re training, so she knows that in order to think 1.15m looks doable at a show, I need to be pretty comfortable over 1.20m at home. So that’s what we do. Looking back at my move up to the 1.0m last year, we didn’t really do this, and I definitely had some nerves because of it- but I was in the situation where I had such a packer of a horse that we were ok winging it for one show.
    Speaking to the dressage portion as well- we don’t compete in dressage or flat classes, but we work really really hard on developing our counter-canter, shoulder-in/out, haunches-in/out, leg yield, half pass, etc etc etc because it’s so essential to our control on course. Hooray for cross training!


  4. I definitely think there’s a lot more confidence and prep that needs to go into moving up in eventing or show jumping than in dressage. Mainly because they are more dangerous. If you lack confidence or biff a question on XC, you could be facing some serious pain. If you biff the transition to the extended trot in a dressage test? You’re just gonna look kinda dumb (or you can blame your horse, but let’s face it, it’s probably just the rider/training. I know it is in my case!). That safety issue is a huge thing to me.

    I’ve made a lot of move ups in dressage because I’ve felt like I’m racing the clock to get through the levels with my old man before his legs literally give out on us from age. That means we’ve had a lotta levels entered where we maybe weren’t totally confirmed. I wouldn’t do this on a sales horse (or if I was a pro!), but on my old man I haven’t minded the occasional embarrassing score. However, one thing that’s always been important to me about moving up in dressage is ensuring my horse is conditioned enough to do the tests and long warm ups without hurting himself. Dressage might be less dangerous, but a lot of balance-heavy work in heavy footing can be a recipe for a soft tissue injury or a fatigue injury in a horse. So it’s important to me to make sure my horse can stand up to schooling a half pass or heavy collection for the amount of time I might need to get ready and ride a test.

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  5. When I jumped I was one of them who would only jump a few jumps higher than what I would show. I was younger and braver (aka dumber) back then. I also knew that my horse was capable of a good foot higher than the little jumps that I was showing (because he usually cleared them by more than that).

    I ride dressage now and very much agree with Austen’s response. A purist wouldn’t want to move up until they were earning 70s at their current level but I think that would leave a lot of people at the lower levels forever. If your horse is happy and fit–go for it.
    I’ll also say that just because you are earning 70s at the current level doesn’t mean you can/should move up. Counter canter doesn’t just magically happen between the little one loop in First Three and the serpentine in Second level (though I wish it did).


  6. I seem to be a bit of the opposite… I actually am way braver to jump bigger fences at a show than at home. I attribute it to the adrenaline and performance pressure? It’s too easy for me to pull the “anxiety card” on home turf, but when I’ve paid money and spent the time/energy prepping for a show, I can actually make it happen.

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    1. This is true. I am more likely to go over whatever is on the course at a show rather than arguing that something is too tall in a lesson (yes i have done that sheepish grin).


  7. Oh, those damn fat tables. I’m dumb and walk up to every jump. Fortunately, I have friend with me. I ask friend “whoa. This is a BAT. I don’t know if…”

    Friend says “move along.”

    And then I just try not to look at it. But yes, schooling the tough prelim stuff has toyed with my mind a little now, and most of the stuff I see on my training course feels way small. I don’t ever get to school show jump courses at home, so I’m stuck jumping one large single jump, but the course height at shows doesn’t bother me. It’s just, having to do them in general.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. For me I’ve started to get bored at entry, which I guess equates to BN here, and I’ve been schooling pre-training, which is a little
    bigger than novice. But I just got my new horse who’s 5 so I don’t think we’ll be moving up past BN any time soon but one can dream!


  9. I agree with Austen. I majorly respect eventers, who when deciding to move up a level really have to be solid at the level before (or at least you hope they are), or else you risk a MAJOR safety issue. In dressage yes I can move up a level when I’m not quite ready and the only risk is a bruised ego and a bad score. But typically I don’t move up until I feel confident running through the hardest test of that level. One or two “hail mary” movements are ok when we first move up, but they should be within reach of being more solid. But then again I can shake off some low scores in exchange for a good learning experience most times.


  10. i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too – from a new-ish perspective for me. since the levels i’m working on are old news for me, even as they’re new for the horse. and let’s be real, they’re pretty low levels anyway. imo, the difference between 3′ and 3’3 is …. more meaningful than the difference between 2’3 and 2’6.

    so i’m less worried about schooling the next levels up than i am about the *feel* i get from the horse while schooling. right now, it’s all about getting reliable, prompt and consistent responses to the aids. it’s about whether the horse feels like he understands what he’s doing. i don’t really care if charlie’s never done anything novice before going BN (hell, he did his first BN without ever having schooled BN xc). but it’s bc right now, with the feel i can get from him and my own experience at BN, i’m pretty sure i can fill in the gaps where needed. i expect my requirements here to change tho as we get closer to the limits of my own experience.


  11. All of what you said! I like to be good at bigger, harder things at home so when we get to the show I can focus all my nerves on riding in public and not on whether or not the jumps look too big.
    Over the last many years though, I’ve been doing more moving down than up. It’s tough with old horses. Hopefully there will be some moving forward in my future though!


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